COLUMBUS, Ohio - New research on child custody policies in Ohio shows that families are receiving different treatment depending on their ZIP code.
According to the "Ohio Parenting Time Report," research shows children fare better when they have equal time with both parents in cases of divorce or separation. While a handful of Ohio counties have parenting time rules aligned with this data, report co-author Donald Hubin, director of the Center for Ethics and Human Values, said the vast majority do not.
"Sixty four of the 88 counties have parenting time schedules that are really of the 1950s or 'Mad Men' days' model, where one parent will see the children for only 48 hours in a two-week period; so it's every other weekend," Hubin said. "And most of those counties allow also 2-3 hours' mid-week parenting time."
The report showed just three counties - Ashtabula, Jefferson and Tuscarawas - provide default schedules that call for equal time. Kentucky recently became the first state to enact a law making joint custody the legal presumption if both parents are considered fit caregivers.
Van Wert is the only county that scored an "F" in the report. Hubin explained its parenting rule states that fathers have visitation every other weekend while mothers retain custody the majority of the time.
"That was shocking to me. I really thought the feminist law reform in the '70s had taken out such explicitly gendered language," he said. "And it certainly has been removed from most places, but Van Wert county still assumes that the father is the parent that visits with the children and the mother is the parent that raises them."
Hubin said if child custody arrangements are handled properly, the negative effects of divorce or separation on children can be minimized. And the report noted that shared physical custody also is a best-case scenario when there is a lot of conflict between parents.
Hubin said that's surprising to a lot of people.
"They think, 'Well, if these parents can't even agree to use shared physical custody, how can they possibly raise their kids together?' And the fact is, they can," Hubin said. "What they do is parallel parenting. They cooperate with one another when something pressing important has to be decided jointly."
While statewide shared-parenting guidelines are ideal, Hubin argued counties should update their default plans to ensure they are supported by research and consider the best interests of the child.
Ohio News Connection in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded in part by the George Gund Foundation.